WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Given Institute’s inaugural online event “Discover the Gift” featured five speakers who expanded on the event’s three-part theme centered on young adult Catholic women, calling them to receive the gift that they are, realize the gifts they’ve been given and respond with the gifts only they can give.
Founded by women religious, Given describes itself on its website as “a not-for-profit organization dedicated to activating the gifts of young adult women for the church and the world. … Through leadership training, faith formation, and dedicated mentoring.”
Although the 2020 forum was postponed until June 2021 because of COVID-19 concerns, the online event brought together more than 1,900 women worldwide, Rachel Harkins Ullmann, executive director of the Given Institute, told the Global Sisters Report.
Sister Virginia Joy, a Sister of Life, who is director of the Respect Life Office for the New York Archdiocese, delivered the first keynote address of the four-day event held June 10-14. She discussed “Casting the Vision,” focusing on how women long to be loved and desire to become how God sees them.
“There’s a necessity in us becoming the women that God has created us to be, and I think this is the essence of Given,” she said. “God has created us with such purpose, care and love. You matter.”
Joy encouraged viewers to think of themselves as gifts from God and to recognize the gifts they have been given. She said women have the ability to enter into what every heart yearns: a longing to be loved.
Women have a love that is sensitive, generous and maternal, she said, adding that women possess a feminine genius, symbolizing a “woman’s capacity to make room for another.”
“We have a unique capacity for love … a love that’s receptive,” she said.
Be Love Revolution founder Debbie Herbeck built on those themes and discussed how they help shape one’s identity in her talk, “Receive the Gift that You Are.”
She said women often struggle with identity and self-worth, asking, “Who am I? What value do I bring to the world? How much am I worth?” Herbeck said that because women are created with purpose, their value comes from God.
Developing an intimate relationship with God is important, Herbeck added. God wants that connection, but they have to be the initiators, she explained, saying that only then, can people start seeing who they are in God’s eyes.
Mother Gloria Therese and Sister Maria Goretti, Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, gave a joint address, “Realize the Gifts You’ve Been Given.”
God “meticulously gives us a foundation upon which to build the gifts that he’s given to us,” Mother Gloria Therese said.
Goretti said three areas of identity keep women grounded so the dreams they achieve are God’s dreams.
Identity in God is “first and foremost rooted in our identity as beloved daughters of the heavenly father, next as a treasured friend of Jesus Christ and then lastly as a treasured temple of the Holy Spirit,” she said.
Goretti urged participants not to put all of their focus on personal shortcomings, saying God can use “everything of us to be able to support others to pursue your dreams.”
Dr. Myma Albayda, assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins, detailed how she responded to her gift of painting, which she discovered about five years ago
“It’s like finding a jewel that you never really made yourself,” Albayda said in her presentation, “Respond with the Gift Only You Can Give.”
Painting became one of the ways she prayed as she often created scenes of her prayer and religious figures, including Jesus, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. John Paul II.
Albayda said art has become a new vocation that brings her unspeakable joy.
“We all have the vocation to create beauty, to seek beauty and to make beautiful the places we live in,” she said.
The final talk, “Activating the Network,” centered on how photographer and social media consultant Sonia Quintero returned to Catholicism and discovered her vocation.
Quintero emphasized three key points: “Your calling is unique, your ‘yes’ is important, and the Lord will always ask you to trust him.”
She never thought she would leave the church, but after her confirmation in 2014, she “never stepped foot back into the church.”
After the death of her grandfather, however, Quintero gradually grew close to God. When she was in college, a Fellowship of Catholic University Students missionary invited her to attend a SEEK Catholic conference. She decided to go.
“Someone saw me for who I was … a broken, scared child,” Quintero said.
At the conference, she was withdrawn at first. At one point, a priest caught her attention. Father Mike Schmitz cried during one of his talks. Referencing the parable of the prodigal son, he said nothing can keep God from desiring a beloved child to return.
“At that moment, it clicked. I was not too far gone,” Quintero said. “I was presented with the Eucharist, and I felt a revelation so deep where I knew nothing except that God was present in the Eucharist.”
The event opened with Ullmann, Sister Maria Juan, a Religious Sister of Mercy, and Montse Alvarado, executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, broadcasting live from the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington.
They honored St. John Paul II, born 100 years ago. Juan recalled how he influenced her vocation through his example of giving himself completely to his calling to serve others, she said.
“His witness of commitment was so powerful for me,” Sister Juan. “Since entering religious life eight years ago and reading many of the documents he wrote, he has some really beautiful things about religious life in particular and the gift that religious women are called to be in the church.”
Sydney Clark is a freelance writer in Washington.